“The Fish-N-Fool sunk!” exclaimed my brother as I was awakened early on a Friday morning. “Turn on Good Morning America. They’re doing a story on it right now!”
No, he wasn’t joking. It was painfully true.
It turned out to be one of the darkest days for the San Diego sportfishing fleet, and personally in my life.
February 6, 1987. One day after the San Diego-based charter fishing boat “Fish-N-Fool” went down off the northern Baja California coast.
10 lives were lost, including the 20-year-old deckhand who took my spot.
At the time I was 19 years old and I was supposed to be on that trip.
“It’ll be a fun trip with a light load and you’ll get to do some fishing,” explained Gary LaMont, the boat’s experienced and well qualified owner/operator. “There’s just nine guys on the trip and it’s in exchange for some work they did on the boat.”
As I remember him, he was a jovial, genuine, kind man who loved being on the water.
I believe this photo best sums up his personality.
These are the only two photos of Gary I have been able to find.
They are both from the 1987 Western Outdoor News edition reporting on the accident, credited to Dennis Albert. Dennis, wherever you are, thank you!
Working the Boats
I was 19 years old and taking a break from college in February of 1987.
I had worked as a deckhand for Gary the two previous summer albacore seasons out of San Diego’s H&M Landing.
Those summer stints on the Fish-N-Fool were followed up by some winter rockcod trips down the Mexican coast in January 1987.
The last 2 trips I worked for Gary were overnight open party trips on January 30th & 31st 1987.
We had pretty good fishing in an area just north of Ensenada, with plenty of salmon grouper, bank perch, reds and a few lingcod.
So when the opportunity came up to work a light load, 4-day trip to San Martin Island later that week, how could I say no?
The FLU told me I had to say no.
The trip was to depart on Tuesday.
I called Gary Monday morning with much disappointment to tell him I was sick, too sick to work the trip.
“No problem! I know you were looking forward to this trip, but just stay home, rest up and I’ll find somebody else to work the trip,” Gary told me.
Scott Milliron (20) was that somebody else who took my place. They never found him. They never found 8 of the others who were on the trip.
I didn’t know Scott. Didn’t know his family. However, I said many prayers for them and often wondered what he went through.
I also wondered if I would have suffered the same fate? Probably.
About the Accident
The boat went down after being rolled by a breaking wave at Ben’s Rock, a submerged pinnacle 2 miles south of Isla San Martin.
The harrowing tale of survival is still tough for me to read.
Shortly after the accident, I spoke with Fish-N-Fool second ticket/cook Cathy Compton.
She described to me seeing the breaking wave through the galley window, then grabbing hold of whatever she could when the boat began tumbling.
All the rest onboard were on deck fishing and were thrown into the 59-degree water when the wave hit.
Cathy and Jim were the only 2 survivors.
Later that year…
By July, it was back to San Diego on the Spirit of Adventure.
A Spirit and Fish-N-Fool regular, Charlie Bear (Bear’s Tackle in San Bernardino), greeted me with a blank stare as if he’d seen a ghost. He assumed I was on that final trip and went down with the boat.
It was an odd feeling.
Strangely enough, that trip took us to San Martin Island and Ben’s Rock, as the albacore were hard to come by that summer of ’87.
Skipper Mike Keating knew the significance of going there for the first time since the accident. He was also friends with Gary LaMont.
“Feels kind weird being here,” I remember him telling me as we motored up to the spot.
RIP to Gary, Scott, and the passengers who never made it home from that trip.